I developed a scam for every occasion and sometimes I waived the occasion. I modified the American banking system to suit myself and siphoned money out of bank vaults like a coon drains an egg. When I jumped the border into Mexico in late 1967,1 had illicit cash assets of nearly $500,000 and several dozen bank officials had crimson derrieres.
It was practically all done with numbers, a statistical shell game with the pea always in my pocket.
Look at one of your own personal checks. Theres a check number in the upper right-hand corner, right? Thaf s probably the only one you notice, and you notice it only if you keep an accurate check register. Most people dont even know their own account number, and while a great number of bank employees may be able to decipher the bank code numbers across the bottom of a check, very few scan a check that closely.
In the 1960s bank security was very lax, at least as far as
I was concerned. It was my experience, when presenting a personal check, drawn
on a Miami bank, say, to another Miami bank, about the only security precaution
taken by the teller was a glance at the number in the upper right-hand corner.
The higher that number, the more readily acceptable the check. It was as if the
teller was telling herself or himself,
So Im in an East Coast city, Boston, for example. I open
an account in the Bean State Bank for $200, using the name Jason Parker and a
boardinghouse address. Within a few days, I receive 200 personalized checks,
The most successful cattle rustlers in the Old West were
experts at brand blotting and brand changing. I was an expert in check number
blotting and changing, using
When I finished with check number 1, it was check number 3100, and the series of numbers above the left-hand bottom edge started with the number 12. Otherwise, the check looks the same.
Now I walk into the Old Settlers Farm and Home Savings Association, which is just a mile from the Bean State Bank. I want to open a savings account, I tell the clerk who greets me. My wife tells me were keeping too much money in a checking account.
All right, sir, how much do you wish to deposit? he or she asks. Lets say its a he. Bank dummies are divided equally among the sexes.
Oh, $6,500,1 guess, I reply, writing out a check to the
OSFHSA. The teller takes the check and glances at the number in the upper
right-hand corner. He also notices its drawn on the Bean State Bank. He
smiles. All right, Mr. Parker. Now, there is a three-day waiting period before
you can make any withdrawals. We have to allow time for your check to clear,
and since its
I understand, I reply. I do, too. Ive already
ascertained thats the waiting period enforced by savings and loan institutions
I wait six days and on the morning of the sixth day I return to Old Settlers. But I deliberately seek out a different teller. I hand him my passbook. I need to withdraw $5,500, I say. If the teller had questioned the amount of the withdrawal, I would have said that I was buying a house or given some other plausible reason. But few savings and loan bank tellers pry into a customers personal affairs.
This one didnt. He checked the account file. The account
was six days old. The
I cashed it at the Bean State Bank and left town... before my check for $6,500 returned from Los Angeles, where the clearing-house bank computer had routed it.
I invested in another
New York is in the Second Federal Reserve District. Bona fide checks on banks in New York all have a series of numerals beginning with the number 02. But all the phony checks I passed on the East Coast, or in northeastern or southeastern states, were routed first to San Francisco or Los Angeles. All the phony checks I passed in the Southwest, Northwest or along the West Coast were first routed to Philadelphia, Boston or some other point across the continent.
My numbers game was the perfect system for floats and stalls. I always had a weeks running time before the hounds picked up the spoor. I learned later that I was the first check swindler to use the routing numbers racket. It drove bankers up the wall. They didnt know what the hell was going on. They do now, and they owe me.
I worked my schemes overtime, all over the nation, until I decided I was just too hot to cool down. I had to leave the country. And I decided I could worry about a passport in Mexico as fretfully as I could in Richmond or Seattle, since all I needed to visit Mexico was a visa. I obtained one from the Mexican Consulate in San Antonio, using the name Frank Williams and presenting myself as a Pan Am pilot, and deadheaded to Mexico City on an Aero-Mexico jet.
I did not take the entire proceeds of my crime spree with me. Like a dog with access to a butcher-shop bone box and forty acres of soft ground, I buried my loot all over the United States, stashing stacks of cash in bank safe-deposit boxes from coast to coast and from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border.
I did take some $50,000 with me into Mexico, concealed in thin sheafs in the lining of my suitcases and the linings of my jackets. A good customs officer could have turned up the cash speedily, but I didnt have to go through customs. I was wearing my Pan Am uniform and was waived along with the AeroMexico crew.
I stayed in Mexico City a week. Then I met a Pan Am stewardess, enjoying a five-day holiday in Mexico, and accepted her invitation to go to Acapulco for a weekend. We were airborne when she suddenly groaned and said a naughty word. Whats the matter? I asked, surprised to hear such language from such lovely lips.
I meant to cash my paycheck at the airport, she said. Ive got exactly three pesos in my purse. Oh, well, I guess the hotel will cash it.
Ill cash it, if its not too much, I said. Im sending my own check off tonight for deposit, and I can just run it through my bank. How much is it?
I really didnt care how much cash was involved. A real Pan Am check! I wanted it. I got it for $288.15, and stowed it carefully away. I never did cash it, although it netted me a fortune.
I liked Acapulco. It teemed with beautiful people, most of them rich, famous or on the make for something or other, sometimes all three. We stayed at a hotel frequented by airline crews, but I never felt in jeopardy. Acapulco is not a place one goes to talk shop.
I stayed on after the stewardess returned to her base in Miami. And the hotel manager became friendly with me, so friendly that I decided to sound him out on my dilemma.
He joined me at dinner one night and since he seemed in an especially affable mood, I decided to make a try then and there. Pete, Im in a helluva jam, I ventured.
The hell you are! he exclaimed in concerned tones.
Yeah, I replied. My supervisor in New York just called me. He wants me to go to London on the noon plane from Mexico City tomorrow and pick up a flight thats being held there because the pilot is sick.
Pete grinned. Thats a jam? I should have your troubles.
I shook my head. The thing is, Pete, I dont have my passport with me. I left it in New York and Im supposed to have it with me all the time. I cant make it back to New York in time to get my passport and get to London on schedule. And if the super learns Im here without a passport, hell fire me. What the hell am I gonna do, Pete?
He whistled. Yeah, you are in a jam, arent you? His features took on a musing look, and then he nodded. I dont know that this will work, but have you ever heard of a woman named Kitty Corbett?
I hadnt and said so. Well, shes a writer on Mexican affairs, an old dame. Shes been down here twenty or thirty years and is real respected. They say she has clout from the Presidential Palace in Mexico City to Washington, D.C., the White House even, I understand. I believe it, too. He grinned. The thing is, thats her at the table by the window. Now, I know she plays mamma to every down-and-out American who puts a con on her, and she loves to do favors for anybody who seeks her out wanting something. Makes her feel like the queen mother, I guess. Anyway, lets go over and buy her a drink, put some sweet lines on her and cry a little. Maybe she can come up with an answer.
Kitty Corbett was a gracious old woman. And sharp. After a few minutes, she smiled at Pete. Okay, innkeeper, whats up? You never sit down with me unless you want something. What is it this time?
Pete threw up his hands and laughed. I dont want a thing, honest! But Frank here has a problem. Tell her, Frank.
I told her virtually the same story Id put on Pete, except I went a little heavier on the melodrama. She looked at me when I finished. You need a passport real bad, Id say, she commented.
Trouble is, youve got one. If s just in the wrong place. You cant have two passports, you know. Thaf s illegal.
I know, I said, grimacing. That worries me, too. But I cant lose this job. It might be years before another airline picked me up, if at all. I was on Pan Ams waiting list for three years. I paused, then exclaimed, Flying jet liners is all I ever wanted to do!
Kitty Corbett nodded sympathetically, lost in thought.
Then she pursed her mouth. Pete, get me a telephone over here.
Pete signaled and a waiter brought a telephone to the table and plugged it into a nearby wall jack. Kitty Corbett picked it up, jiggled the hook and then began talking to the operator in Spanish. It required several minutes, but she was put through to whomever she was calling.
Sonja? Kitty Corbett here, she said. Listen, Ive got a favor to ask... She went on and detailed my predicament and then listened as the party on the other end replied.
I know all that, Sonja, she said. And Ive got it figured out. Just issue him a temporary passport, just as you would if his had been lost or stolen. Hell, when he gets back to New York he can tear up the temporary passport, or tear up the old one and get a new one.
She listened again for a minute, then held her hand over the receiver and looked at me. You dont happen to have your birth certificate with you, do you?
Yes, I do, I said. I carry it in my wallet. Its a little worn, but still legible.
Kitty Corbett nodded and turned again to the phone. Yes, Sonja, he has a birth certificate.... You think you can handle it? Great! Youre a love and I owe you. See you next week.
She hung up and smiled. Well, Frank, if you can get to the American Consulate in Mexico City by ten oclock tomorrow, Sonja Gundersen, the assistant consul, will issue you a temporary passport. Youve lost yours, understand? And if you tell anyone about this, Ill kill you.
I kissed her and ordered a bottle of the best champagne. I even had a glass myself. Then I called the airport and found there was a flight leaving in an hour. I made a reservation and turned to Pete. Listen, Im going to leave a lot of my stuff here. I dont have time to pack. Have someone pack what I leave and store it in your office, and Ill pick it up in a couple of weeks, maybe sooner. Im going to try and come back through here.
I stuffed one suitcase with my uniform and one suit, and my money. Pete had a cab waiting when I went down to the lobby. I really liked the guy, and I wished there were some way to thank him.
I thought of a way. I laid one of my phony Pan Am checks on him. On the hotel he managed, anyway.
I cashed another one at the airport before boarding the flight to Mexico City. In Mexico City, I stowed my bag in a locker after changing into my Pan Am pilots garb and walked into Miss Gundersens office at 9:45 a.m.
Sonja Gundersen was a crisp, starched blonde and she didnt waste any time. Your birth certificate, please.
I took it from my wallet and handed it to her. She scanned it and looked at me. I thought Kitty said your name was Frank Williams. This says your name is Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.
I smiled. It is. Frank William Abagnale, Jr. You know Kitty. She had a little too much champagne last night. She kept introducing me to all her friends as Frank Williams, too. But I thought she gave you my full name.
She may have, agreed Miss Gundersen. I had trouble hearing a lot of what she said. These damned Mexican telephones. Anyway youre obviously a Pan Am pilot, and part of your name is Frank William, so you must be the one.
As instructed, I had stopped and obtained two passport-sized photographs. I gave those to Miss Gundersen, and walked out of the consulate building fifteen minutes later with a temporary passport in my pocket. I went back to the airport and changed into a suit and bought a ticket for London at the British Overseas Airways counter, paying cash.
I was -told the flight was delayed. It wouldnt depart until seven that evening.
I changed back into my pilots uniform and spent six hours papering Mexico City with my decorative duds. I was $6,500 richer when I flew off to London, and the Mexican federates joined the posse on my tail.
In London I checked into the Royal Gardens Hotel in Kensington, using the name F. W. Adams and representing myself as a TWA pilot on furlough. I used my alternate alias on the premise that London police would soon be receiving queries on Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., also known as Frank Williams, erstwhile Pan Am pilot.
I stayed only a few days in London. I was beginning to feel pressure on me, the same uneasiness that had plagued me in the States. I realized in London that leaving the U.S. hadnt solved my problem, that Mexican police and Scotland Yard officers were in the same business as cops in New York or Los Angeles-that of catching crooks. And I was a crook.
Given that knowledge, and the small fortune in cash I had stashed away in various places, it would have been prudent of me to live as quietly and discreetly as possible under an assumed name in some out-of-the-way foreign niche. I recognized the merits of such a course, but prudence was a quality I didnt seem to possess.
I was actually incapable of sound judgment, I realize now, driven by compulsions over which I had no control. I was now living by rationalizations: I was the hunted, the police were the hunters, ergo, the police were the bad guys. I had to steal to survive, to finance my continual flight from the bad guys, consequently I was justified in my illegal means of support. So, after less than a week in England, I papered Piccadilly with some of my piccadillies and flew off to Paris, smug in the irrational assumption that Id resorted to fraud again in self-defense.
A psychiatrist would have viewed my actions differently. He would have said I wanted to be caught. For now the British police began to put together a dossier on me.
Perhaps I was seeking to be caught. Perhaps I was subconsciously seeking help and my subliminal mind told me the authorities would offer that help, but I had no such conscious thoughts at the time.
I was fully aware that I was on a mad carrousel ride, a merry-go-round whirling ungoverned from which I seemed unable to dismount, but I sure as hell didnt want cops to stop the whirligig.
I hadnt been in Paris three hours when I met Monique Lavalier and entered into a relationship that was not only to broaden my venal vistas but, ultimately, was also to destroy my honey hive. Looking back, I owe Monique a debt of thanks. So does Pan Am, although some of the firms officials might argue the point.
Monique was a stewardess for Air France. I met her in the Windsor Hotel bar, where she and several dozen other Air France flight-crew people were giving a party for a retiring captain pilot. If I met the honoree, I dont remember him, for I was mesmerized by Monique. She was as heady and sparkling as the fine champagne being served. I was invited to the party by an Air France first officer who saw me, dressed in my Pan Am attire, checking in at the desk. He promptly accosted me, hustled me into the bar, and my real protests evaporated when he introduced me to Monique.
She had all of Rosalies charms and qualities and none of Rosalies inhibitions. Apparently I affected Monique the same way she affected me, for we became inseparable during the time I was in Paris and on subsequent visits. Monique, if she had any thoughts of marrying me, never mentioned it, but she did, three days after we met, take me home to present me to her family. The Lavaliers were delightful people, and I was particularly intrigued with Papa Lavalier.
He was a job printer, operator of a small printing shop on the outskirts of Paris. I was immediately seized with an idea for improving upon my check-swindling scam involving phony Pan Am vouchers.
You know, I have some good connections in the Pan Am business office, I said casually during lunch. Maybe I can get Pan Am to give you some printing business.
Papa Lavalier beamed. Yes, yes! he exclaimed. Anything you want done, we will try and do, and we would be most grateful, monsieur. Monique acted as an interpreter, for none of her family had the slightest command of English. That afternoon her father took me on a tour of his plant, which he operated with two of Moniques brothers. He employed one other young man, who, like Monique, spoke fractured English, but Papa Lavalier said he and his sons would personally perform any printing jobs I might secure for their little firm. Whatever you want printed in English, my father and my brothers can do it, Monique said proudly. They are the best printers in France.
I still had the actual Pan Am payroll check Id cashed for the stewardess in Mexico. Studying it, I was struck by the difference between it and my imaginative version of a Pan Am check. My imitations were impressive, certainly, else I wouldnt have been able to pass so many of them, but one placed next to the real thing fairly shrieked counterfeit! I had been lucky to get by with passing them. Obviously the tellers whod accepted them had never handled a real Pan Am check.
It occurred to me, however, that Pan Am checks might be very familiar to European bank tellers, since the carrier did the bulk of its business outside the continental United States. The thought had crossed my mind in London, even, when the teller in the one bank Id bilked had seemed overly studious of my artwork.
Its an expense check, Id said, pointing to the bold black letters so stating.
Oh, yes, of course, hed replied, and had cashed the check, but with a trace of reluctance.
Now I had another thought. Maybe Pan Am had a different-type check, maybe a different-colored check, perhaps, for different continents. I thought it best to check on the theory before proceeding with my plan. The next morning I called Pan Ams Paris office and asked to speak to someone in the business office. I was connected with a man who sounded very young and very inexperienced, and soon proved he was the latter. I was becoming convinced that Lady Luck was my personal switchboard operator.
Say, listen, this is Jack Rogers over at Daigle Freight Forwarding, I said. I got a check here, and I think your company must have sent it to us by mistake.
Uh, well, Mr. Rogers, why do you say that? he inquired.
Because I got a check here for $1,900, sent from your New York office, and I dont have an invoice to match the payment notation, I replied. I cant find any record of having handled anything for you people. You got any idea what this checks for?
Well, not right offhand, Mr. Rogers. Are you sure the checks from us?
Well, it seems to me it is, I said. Its a regular green check with Pan American in big letters across the top and its made out to us for $1,900.
Mr. Rogers, that doesnt sound like one of our checks,
the fellow said. Our checks are blue, and they have Pan
I was holding the stewardesss check in my hand. He had described it perfectly, but I didnt tell him that. You gotta Pan Am check there? I demanded, in the tone of a man who wanted to remove all doubts.
Well, yes, I do, but...
I cut him off. Whos it signed by? Whats the comptrollers name? I asked.
He told me. It was the same name appearing on the check in my hand. Whats the string of little numbers across the bottom read? I pressed.
Why, 02... and he rattled them off to me. They matched the numbers on the stews check.
Nah, thats not the guy who signed this check and the numbers dont match, I lied. But you people do bank with Chase Manhattan, dont you?
Yes, we do, but so do a lot of other companies, and you may have a check from some other firm operating under the name Pan American. I dont think you have one of our checks, Mr. Rogers. I suggest you return it and establish some sort of correspondence, he said helpfully.
Yeah, Ill do that, and thanks, I said.
Monique flew the Berlin-Stockholm-Copenhagen run for Air France, a two-day turnaround trip, and then was off for two days. She had a flight that day. She was barely airborne when I appeared in her fathers shop. He was delighted to see me, and we had no trouble conversing between the French I had learned from my mother and the English of his young printer.
I displayed the check Id gotten from the Pan Am stewardess, but with her name and the amount of the check blocked out. I talked to our business-office people, I said. Now, weve been having these checks printed in America, a pretty expensive process. I told them I thought you could do the job as well and at a substantial savings. Do you think you can duplicate this check in payroll-book form?
«If you think you can, I am authorized to give you a trial order of ten thousand, provided you can beat the New York price.»
He was examining the check. «And what is your printers cost for these in New York, monsieur?» he asked.
I hadnt the faintest idea, but I named a figure I felt wouldnt offend New York printers. «Three hundred and fifty dollars per thousand,» I said.
He nodded. «I can provide your company with a quality product that will exactly duplicate this one, and at $200 per thousand,» he said eagerly. «I think you will find our work most satisfactory.»
He hesitated, seemingly embarrassed. «Monsieur, I know you and my daughter are close friends, and I trust you implicitly, but it is customary that we receive a deposit of fifty percent,» he said apologetically.
I laughed. «You will have your deposit this afternoon,» I said.
I went to a Paris bank, dressed in my Pan Am pilots uniform, and placed $1,000 on the counter of one of the tellers cages. I would like a cashiers check in that amount, please, I said. The remittor should be Pan American World Airways, and make the check payable to Maurice Lavalier and Sons, Printers, if you will.
I delivered the check that afternoon. Papa Lavalier had an inspection sample ready for the following day. I examined the work and had to restrain myself from whooping. The checks were beautiful. No, gorgeous. Real Pan Am checks, four to a page, twenty-five pages to the book, perforated and on IBM card stock! I felt on top of the mountain, and no matter it was a check swindlers pinnacle.
Papa Lavalier filled the entire order within a week, and I again acquired a legitimate cashiers check, purportedly issued by Pan Am, for the balance due him.
Papa Lavalier furnished me with invoices and receipts and was pleased that I was pleased. It probably never occurred to him, having never dealt with Americans before, that there was anything strange about our dealings. I was a Pan Am pilot. His daughter vouched for me. And the checks he received were valid checks, issued by Pan Am.
I hope we can do more work for your company, my friend, he said.
Oh, you will, you will, I assured him. In fact, were so delighted with your work that we may refer others to you.
There were other referrals, all phony, and all handled personally by me, but Papa Lavalier never questioned anything I asked. From the time he delivered the 10,000 Pan Am checks, he was the printer of any spurious document I needed or desired, an innocent dupe who felt grateful to me for having opened the door of the American market to him.
Of course I had no need of 10,000 Pan Am checks. The size of the order was simply to avert any suspicion. Even Papa Lavalier knew Pan Am was a behemoth of the airline industry. An order for a lesser number of checks might have made him wary.
I kept a thousand of the checks and fueled the incinerators of Paris with the remainder. Then I bought an IBM electric typewriter and made out a check to myself for $781.45, which I presented to the nearest bank, garbed as a Pan Am pilot.
It was a small bank. Monsieur, I am certain this check is a good one, but I would have to verify it before I cash it, and we are not allowed to make transatlantic calls at the banks expense, he said with a wry smile. If you would care to pay for the call... He looked at me ques-tioningly.
I shrugged. Sure, go ahead. Ill pay whatever the call costs.
I hadnt anticipated such a precaution on the banks part, but neither was I alarmed. And I had inadvertently chosen a time to cash the check when its worth as a counterfeit could be tested. It was 3:15 p.m. in Paris. The banks in New York had been open for fifteen minutes. It required about the same length of time for the teller to be connected with the bookkeeping department of the Chase Manhattan Bank. The French teller was proficient in English, although with an accent. I have a check here, presented by a Pan American pilot, drawn on your bank in the amount of $781.45, American dollars, said the teller, and proceeded to give the account number across the bottom left-hand corner of the sham check.
I see, yes, thank you very much.... Oh, the weather here is fine, thank you. He hung up and smiled. Every time I talk to America, they want to know about the weather. He handed me the check to endorse and commenced counting out the amount of the check, less $8.92 for the telephone call. All things considered, it was not an unreasonable service charge.
I showered Paris and its suburban environs with the bogus checks, and rented a safe-deposit box, for a five-year period paid in advance, in which to store my loot. Very rarely was a check questioned, and then it was only a matter of verification, and if the banks in New York were closed, I would return to the bank when they were open. Only once did I experience a tense moment. Instead of calling Chase Manhattan, one teller called Pan Ams business office in New York! Not once was my assumed name mentioned, but I heard the teller give the name of the bank, the account number and the name of the Pan Am comptroller.
Pan Am must have verified the check, for the teller paid it.
I was astonished myself at the ease and smoothness of my new operation. My God, I was now having my fictitious checks cleared by telephone and by Pan Am itself. I rented a car and while Monique was flying I drove around France, cashing the checks in every village bank and big-city treasury that loomed in sight. I have never verified the suspicion, but I often thought in later months and years that the reason I was so successful with those particular Pan Am checks was because Pan Am was paying them!
Papa Lavalier received a lot of business from me. I had him make me up a new Pan Am ID card, much more impressive than my own fraudulent one, after a real Pan Am pilot carelessly left his IE) card on the bar in the Windsor. Ill give it to him, I told the bartender. I did mail it to him, in care of Pan Ams New York offices, but only after Id had Papa Lavalier copy it and substitute my own phony name, fake rank and photograph.
I had told the Lavaliers that I was in Paris as a special representative of Pan Am, doing public relations for the firm. A month after meeting Monique, however, I told her I had to return to flying status as a standby pilot, and caught a plane to New York. I arrived shortly before noon on a Tuesday and went immediately to the nearest branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank, where I purchased a $1,200 cashiers check, with Roger D. Williams as remittor and Frank W. Williams as payee.
I took a plane back to Paris that same day, checked into the King George V this time, and once in my room altered the Federal Reserve District number on the check so that, when cashed, it would be routed to San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Then I took the check to Papa Lavalier. I need three hundred of these, I said.
I thought surely he would question the duplication of what was obviously a money order, but he didnt. I learned later that he never really understood what he was printing when he did jobs for me, but performed with a blind faith in my integrity.
I flew back to New York the day after receiving the three hundred duplicates, each an image of the original. There are 112 branches of Chase Manhattan in the New York metropolitan area alone. Over a period of three days I called at sixty of the branches, presenting one of the replicas in each bank. Only once in the sixty instances were there more than perfunctory words passed.
Sir, I know this is one of Chases checks, but it wasnt issued from this branch, she said apologetically. I will have to call the issuing bank. Can you wait a minute?
Certainly, go ahead, I said easily.
She made her call within earshot of me. No part of the conversation surprised me. Yes, this is Janice in Queens. Cashiers check 023685, can you tell me whom it was issued to, how much, when and whats the current status on it? She waited, then apparently repeated what shed been told. Frank W. Williams, $1,200, January 5, currently outstanding. I must have it right here. Thank you very much.
Im sorry, sir, she said, smiling as she counted out the cash.
Thats all right, I said. And you should never apologize for doing your job well. I meant it, too. That girl got stung, but shes still the kind banks should hire. And she saved Chase a bundle. I had intended to hit at least 100 Chase branches, but after she made her call, I pulled up on that particular caper.
I figured I couldnt afford another call to the bank that had issued the original check. I knew the odds favored me, but I couldnt chance the same bookkeeping clerk answering the phone if some other teller decided to go behind the check.
New York made me nervous. I felt I should head for a foreign clime again, but I couldnt decide whether to return to Paris and Monique or visit some new and exciting place.
While I was debating with myself, I flew to Boston, where I got myself flung into jail and robbed a bank. The former was a shock, like an unplanned pregnancy. The latter was the result of an irresistible impulse.
I went to Boston simply to get out of New York. I thought it would be as good as any place along the eastern seaboard as a point of embarkation, and it also had a lot of banks. On arrival, I stowed my bags in an airport rental locker, put the key in my ID folder and called at several of the banks, exchanging some of my Pan Am check facsimiles for genuine currency. I returned to the airport early in the evening, intending to catch an overseas flight as soon as possible. I had garnered over $5,000 in my felonious foray through Bean Town, and I stowed $4,800 of it in my bags before checking on what foreign flights were available that night.
I didnt have a chance to make my inquiries until late that night. Turning away from the locker, I encountered a pretty Allegheny Airlines stewardess from my embryo days as a pilot without portfolio.
Frank! What a neat surprise! she exclaimed. Naturally, we had to have a reunion. I didnt get back to the airport until after 11 p.m., and by then Id decided to go to Miami and make an overseas connection from there.
I walked up to the Allegheny Airlines counter. Whens your next connecting flight to Miami? I asked the ticket agent on duty, a man. I had changed into my pilots uniform.
You just missed it. He grimaced.
Whos got the next flight, National, American, who? I inquired.
No one, he said. Youve missed any flight to Miami until tomorrow. Nothing flies out of here after midnight. Bostons got a noise-control ordinance, now, and no outgoing traffic is allowed after midnight. No airline can put a plane in the air until 6:30 a.m., and the first flight to Miami is Nationals at 10:15 a.m.
But its only 11:40 now, I said.
He grinned. Okay. You want to go to Burlington, Vermont? Thats the last flight out tonight.
All things considered, I declined. I walked over and sat down in one of the lobby chairs, mulling the situation. The lobby, like most large airport vestibules, was ringed with gift shops, newsstands, coffee shops, bars and various other shops, and I noted idly, while cogitating, that most of them were closing. I also noted, suddenly interested, that many of them were stopping at the night depository of a large Boston bank, situated near the middle of one exit corridor, and dropping bags or bulky envelopes-obviously their days receipts-into the steel-faced receptacle.
My observation was interrupted by two chilling words:
I looked up, quelling a surge of panic. Two tall, grimvisaged Massachusetts state troopers, in uniform, stood over me.
You are Frank Abagnale, arent you? demanded the one in stony tones.
My name is Frank, but its Frank Williams, I said, and I was surprised that the calm, unflustered reply had issued from my throat.
May I see your identification, please? asked the one. The words were spoken politely, but his eyes said if I didnt promptly produce my ID, he was going to pick me up by the ankles and shake it out of my pockets.
I handed over my ID card and my fraudulent FAA pilots license. Look, I dont know what this is all about, but youre badly mistaken, I said as I tendered the documents. I fly for Pan American, and these ought to be proof enough.
The one studied the ID card and license, then passed them to his partner. Why dont you knock off the bullshit, son? Youre Frank Abagnale, arent you? said the second one, almost gently.
Frank who? I protested, feigning anger to cover my increasing nervousness. I dont know who the hell youre after, but its not me!
The one frowned. Well, we aint gonna stand around here arguing with you, he growled. Come on, were taking you in.
They didnt ask where my luggage was, and I didnt volunteer. They took me outside, placed me in their patrol car and drove me directly to the state police offices. There I was ushered into the office of a harried-looking lieutenant, whom I assumed was the shift commander.
What the hell is this? he demanded in exasperated tones.
Well, we think its Frank Abagnale, Lieutenant, said one of the troopers. He says hes a pilot for Pan Am.
The lieutenant eyed me. You dont look very old to be a pilot, he said. Why dont you tell the truth? Youre Frank Abagnale. Weve been looking for him for a long time. Hes supposed to be a pilot, too. You fit his description-perfectly.
Im thirty years old, my name is Frank Williams and I fly for Pan Am, and I want to talk to my lawyer, I shouted.
The lieutenant sighed. You aint been charged with nothin yet,» he said. «Take him over to the city jail, book him for vagrancy and then let him call a lawyer. And call the feds. Hes their pigeon. Let them straighten it out.»
«Vagrancy!» I protested. «Im no vagrant. Ive got nearly $200 on me.»
The lieutenant nodded. «Yeah, but you aint proved youre gainfully employed,» he said wearily. «Get «im out of here.»
I was taken to the county jail in downtown Boston, which had all the appearances of a facility that should have long ago been condemned, and had been, and I was turned over to the booking sergeant.
«Damn me, what did he do?» he queried, looking at me.
«Just book him for vagrancy. Someone will pick him up in the morning,» said the one trooper.
«Vagrant!» bellowed the sergeant. «By damn, if hes a vagrant, I hope you guys never bring in any bums.»
«Just book him,» grunted the one trooper, and he and his partner left.
«Empty your pockets, lad,» the sergeant said gruffly, pulling a form in triplicate from a drawer. «Ill give you a receipt for your goods.»
I started placing my valuables before him. «Listen, can I keep my ID card and pilots license?» I asked. «Company regulations say I have to have them on me at all times. Im not sure if being arrested is included, but Id still like to keep them, if you dont mind.»
The sergeant examined the card and the license and pushed
them toward me. «Sure,» he said kindly. «Id say theres been some kind of
A jailer took me upstairs and placed me in a dingy, rusty cell adjoining the drunk tank. «If you need anything, just holler,» he said sympathetically.
I nodded, not replying, and slumped on the cot. I was suddenly depressed, miserable and scared. The game was over, I had to admit. The FBI would pick me up in the morning, I knew, and then it would be just one courtroom after another, I figured. I looked around the jail cell and hoped that prison cells were more tenable. Jesus, this was a rat hole. And I didnt have a prayer of getting out. But then no man has a prayer, I thought regretfully, when he worships a hustlers god.
Even a hustlers god, however, has a legion of angels. And one appeared to me now, preceded by a thin, wavering whistle, like a kid bolstering his courage in a graveyard. He hauled up in front of my cell, an apparition in a hideous, green-checked suit topped by a face that might have come out of a lobster pot, questioning lips punctuated by an odorous cigar and eyes that regarded me as a weasel might look on a mouse.
«Well, now, what the hell might you be doing in there?» he asked around the cigar.
I didnt know who he was. He didnt look like anyone who could help me. «Vagrancy,» I said shortly.
«Vagrancy!» he exclaimed, examining me with his shrewd eyes. «Youre a pilot with Pan Am, arent you? How the hell can you be a vagrant? Did somebody steal all your planes?»
«Whore you?» I asked.
He fished in his pocket and thrust a card through the bars. «Aloyius James Bailout Bailey, my high-flying friend,» he said. «Bail bondsman par excellence. The cops bring em, I spring «em. Youre on their turf, now, pal. I can put you on mine. The street.»
Hope didnt exactly spring eternal in my breast, but it crow-hopped.
«Well, Ill tell you the truth,» I said cautiously. «There was this guy at the airport. He was getting pretty obnoxious with a girl. I racked his ass. They ran us both in for fighting. I shouldve stayed out of it. Ill probably lose my job when the skipper finds out Im in jail.»
He stared at me, unbelieving. «What the hell you sayin»? You aint got nobody to bail you out? Call one of your friends, for Chris sakes.»
I shrugged. «I dont have any friends here. I flew in on a charter cargo job. Im based in Los Angeles.»
«What about the rest of your crew?» he demanded. «Call one of them.»
«They went on to Istanbul,» I lied. «I got time off due me. I was going to deadhead to Miami to see a chick.»
«Well, goddamned! You have got your ass in a crack, havent you?» said Aloyius James «Bailout» Bailey. Then he smiled, and his features suddenly took on the charm of a jolly leprechaun. «Well, my fighter-pilot chum, lets see if we cant get your butt out of this Boston bastille.»
He disappeared and was gone for an agonizing length of time, all of ten minutes. Then he hove to in front of my cell again. «Goddamn, your bond is $5,000,» he said in a surprised tone. «Sarge says you must have given the troopers a hard time. How much money you got?»
My hopes came to a standstill again. «Just $200, maybe not that much,» I sighed.
He mulled the reply; his eyes narrowed. «You got any identification?» he asked.
«Sure,» I said, passing my ID and pilots license through the bars. «You can see how long Ive been a pilot, and Ive been with Pan Am seven years.»
He handed back the documents. «You got a personal check?» he asked abruptly.
«Yeah, that is, the sergeant downstairs has it,» I said. «Why?»
«Because Im gonna take your check, thats why, Jet Jockey,» he said with a grin. «You can write it out when the sarge lets you loose.»
The sarge let me loose thirty-five minutes later. I wrote Bailey a check for the standard 10 percent, $500, and handed him a hundred in cash. «Thats a bonus, in lieu of a kiss,» I said, laughing with joy. «Id give you the kiss except for that damned cigar!»
He drove me to the airport after I told him I was taking the first flight to Miami.
This is what happened later. I have it on unimpeachable sources, as the White House reporters are fond of saying. An ecstatic ORiley, high enough with joy to require a pilots license himself, showed up at the jail. «Abagnale, or whatever the hell name youve got him booked under, trot him out,» he chortled.
«He made bond at three-thirty this morning,» volunteered a jailer. The sergeant had gone home.
ORiley flirted with apoplexy. «Bond! Bond! Who the hell bonded him out?» he finally shrieked in strangled tones.
«Bailey, Bailout Bailey, who else?» replied the jailer.
ORiley wrathfully sought out Bailey. «Did you post bond for a Frank Wiliams this morning? he demanded.
Bailey looked at him, astonishd. The pilot? Sure, I went his bail. Why the hell not?
Howd he pay you? How much? ORiley grated.
Why, the regular amount, $500. Ive got his check right here, said Bailey, offering the voucher.
ORiley looked at the check and then dropped it on Baileys desk. Serves your ass right, he growled, and turned toward the door.
What do you mean? Bailey demanded as the FBI agent grasped the door handle.
ORiley grinned wickedly. Run it through your bank account, turd, and youll find out what I mean.
Outside, a Massachusetts detective turned to ORiley. We can get out an APB on him.
ORiley shook his head. Forget it. That bastards five hundred miles away. No Boston cops gonna catch him.
A prudent man would have been five hundred miles away. I wasnt prudent. When youre hot, youre hot, and I had the cajones of a billy goat.
No sooner had Bailey dropped me at the airport, and was gone, than I grabbed a cab and checked in at a nearby motel.
The next morning I called the bank that had a branch at the airport. Security, please, I said when the switchboard operator answered.
Yeah, listen, this is Connors, the new guard. I dont have a uniform for tonights shift. My damned uniform got ripped up in an accident. Where can I get a replacement, lady? I spoke in outrage.
Well, we get our uniforms from Beke Brothers, the woman replied in mollifying tones. Just go down there, Mr. Connors. Theyll outfit you with a replacement.
I looked up the address of Beke Brothers. I also had my fingers do some walking through other sections of the Yellow Pages.
I went first to Beke Brothers. No one questioned my status. Within fifteen minutes I walked out with a complete guards outfit: shirt, tie, trousers and hat, the name of the bank emblazoned over the breast pocket and on the right shoulder of the shirt. I stopped at a police-supply firm and picked up a Sam Browne belt and holster. I called at a gun shop and picked up a replica of a.38 police special.
It was harmless, but only an idiot would have ignored it were it pointed at him. I then rented a station wagon, and when I left my motel each door sported a sign proclaiming
SECURITY-BEAN STATE NATIONAL BANK.
At 11:15 p.m. I was standing at attention in front of the night-deposit box of the Bean State National Bank Airport Branch, and a beautifully lettered sign adorned the safes depository: night deposit vault out of order, please
MAKE DEPOSITS WITH SECURITY OFFICER.
There was an upright dolly, with a large mail-type bag bulking open, in front of the depository.
At least thirty-five people dropped bags or envelopes into the container.
Not one of them said more than Good evening or Good night.
When the last shop had closed, I secured the top of the canvas bag and began hauling the loot to the station wagon. I became stuck trying to get the dolly over the weather strip of the exit door. Try as I might, I couldnt get the damned thing across the little ridge. It was just too heavy.
Whats going on, buddy?
I twisted my head and nearly soiled my drawers. They werent the same ones, but a pair of state troopers was standing less than five feet away.
Well, the box is out of order, and the truck broke down, and Ive got the banks station wagon out here and no goddamned hydraulic pulley, and I aint exactly Samson, I said, grinning sheepishly.
The older one, a ruddy-faced redhead, laughed. Well, hell, let us help you with it, he said, and stepped forward and grabbed the handle of the dolly. With three of us tugging, it came over the ridge easily. They helped me drag the dolly to the station wagon and assisted me in lifting the bulky, cumbersome cargo into the back of the vehicle. I slammed shut the tailgate and turned to the officers.
I appreciate it, boys, I said, smiling. Id spring for the coffee, but Ive got to get this little fortune to the bank.
They laughed and one lifted a hand. Hey, no sweat. Next time, okay?
Less than an hour later, I had the booty in my motel room and was sorting out the cash. Bills only. I tossed the change, credit-card receipts and checks into the bathtub.
I netted $62,800 in currency. I changed into a casual suit, wrapped the haul in a spare shirt and drove to the airport, where I retrieved my bags. An hour later I was on a flight to Miami. I had a thirty-minute layover in New York. I used the time to call the manager of the airport in Boston. I didnt get him but I got his secretary.
Listen, tell the Bean State Bank people they can get the majority of the loot from last nights depository caper in the bathtub of Room 208, Rest Haven Motel, I said and hung up.
The next day I winged out of Miami, bound for Istanbul.
I had an hours layover in Tel Aviv.
I used it upholding my code of honor. In my entire career, I never yenched a square John as an individual.
I sought out a branch of an American bank. And laid a sheaf of bills on the counter before a teller.
I want a $5,000 cashiers check, I said.
Yes, sir. And your name?
Frank Abagnale, Jr., I said.
All right, Mr. Abagnale. Do you want this check made out to you?
I shook my head. No, I said. Make it payable to Aloyius James «Bailout» Bailey, in Boston, Massachusetts.